Phone booths may seem to many like just an antiquated memory of New York City’s past, but there are still many of them on the city’s streets. However, there will be fewer of them in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen in the coming weeks, after complaints from residents and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents the area, about the booths being poorly maintained and taking up valuable space.
After residents’ complaints, Speaker Johnson wrote a letter in November 2019 to the commissioner of the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), requesting that the city agency immediately remove several pay phones along Ninth Avenue, between 42nd and 57th Streets in Hell’s Kitchen.
Johnson also requested in the meantime that the agency work with the franchisee of the booths, the consortium CityBridge, to “better maintain the cleanliness of the pay phones along Ninth Avenue.”
Johnson added in the letter, “My office has received numerous community complaints from local residents about these antiquated pay phones, which present public safety and quality of life issues. Additionally, they take up sorely needed sidewalk space that could better serve people with disabilities, families with strollers and ease sidewalk congestion.”
DoITT plans to eventually remove all antiquated pay phones in the city, Johnson noted in his letter, but asked that removal of the Ninth Avenue booths be made a priority.
A new commissioner of DoITT, Jessica Tisch, was appointed in December, and Tisch responded to Johnson in a letter in mid-February. In the letter, Tisch wrote that after looking into the phone booths, “it’s apparent that CityBridge has not maintained PPTs [public pay phones] to the service level agreement required. Based on your observations and advocacy, I have directed CityBridge to remove approximately 30 PPTs along this 9th Avenue corridor.”
Until removal of the booths, Tisch added that CityBridge has committed to maintaining them and that DoITT will be monitoring their maintenance.
The current schedule for phone booth removals along Ninth Avenue, according to Speaker Johnson’s office, includes six booths being taken out in the next one to two weeks, including at West 35th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 43rd and 45th Streets. CityBridge has agreed to remove another 23 booths by the end of March, ranging from West 23rd to 57th Street.
“Antiquated and outdated payphone booths are an eyesore and take up much-needed public space,” said Speaker Johnson by email. “Removing these booths from our already busy streets in Hell’s Kitchen is a victory for the community. I want to thank the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications for working hand in glove with my office and community residents to address and solve this particular quality of life issue. This is an example of how government and the community can work together to achieve goals that benefit all New Yorkers.”